As a therapist, you can help teach individuals how to make daily tasks more manageable, which makes their lives more enjoyable. Life skills for adults are an important topic for individuals recovering from substance abuse, addiction and other life-altering events. Tackling these topics in group therapy allows individuals to unite over similar experiences and create a support system for each other.
Find out how life skills and mental health are connected and learn some new activities to add to your group therapy session.
Table of Contents
- 4 Benefits of Life Skills Group Therapy
- Important Life Skills to Build
- Life Skills Activities to Practice in Therapy
4 Benefits of Life Skills Group Therapy
Active participation in life skills therapy is endlessly beneficial for individuals who are working through substance abuse recovery. While each individual will benefit from life skills therapy in their own way, here are some of the most common benefits of life skills group therapy.
1. Encourage a Focus on Recovery
People who struggle with substance abuse form a “bond” with the substances they're using and it becomes the most important thing in their lives. Their other responsibilities and worries often get pushed to the back of their minds, forgotten. Life skills therapy helps people recovering from addiction place more focus on the recovery process. It helps clear their minds and teaches them how to put their attention on other things.
2. Gain Financial Stability
Substance abuse can be financially draining. Whether it be financial irresponsibility, inability to hold a job while using drugs or alcohol or covering addiction-related expenses, the financial loss during this period of someone's life can be difficult to recover from. Life skills group therapy helps teach individuals how to manage their funds, find and keep a job, save money and pay bills on time. As they regain financial stability, these individuals will gain skills to support themselves and their families.
3. Promote Healthy Habits
There are numerous adverse health effects of addiction, including malnutrition and liver, heart and lung issues. Additionally, addiction can have a significant effect on your clients' mental health. Mental health disorders like schizophrenia, anxiety or depression may exist prior to substance abuse, though the addiction can also worsen or trigger mental disorders. Life skills group therapy helps clients learn healthy habits to help get their health back on track
4. Build Social Skills
Many of your clients may use drugs or alcohol as a social crutch. They may find it challenging to engage in social situations when they're sober, so they use substances when socializing. Without that social crutch, many people might lack the necessary social skills to relate to others. In life skills therapy, clients learn communication methods that will allow them to build a social network.
Important Life Skills to Build
As a therapist, you help clients build important life skills so they can make progress toward their personal growth. Building critical life skills helps ensure clients are able to live a healthier, more successful life after treatment. There are numerous types of life skills you may teach in your group therapy sessions. Here are four areas of life skills that are a common focus in life skills therapy:
- Household responsibilities: Effectively running a household is typically not a focus for individuals fueling an addiction. It's often easy to forget about cleaning and organizing when they are preoccupied with feeding their addiction. Building the necessary skills to handle common household responsibilities is crucial. In addition to learning how to do tasks like laundry, dishes and washing the floors, you can help your clients understand the importance of a clean, well-maintained living space.
- Emotional regulation: For many clients, recovery will be a stressful and emotional journey. It will be easy for them to get overwhelmed and worked up over seemingly small situations, and they may not have the skills to properly control their emotions in stressful situations. During life skills therapy, it's important for clients to learn how to regulate their emotions. Building these skills helps individuals react appropriately to various situations.
- Coping mechanisms: To help prevent relapses from happening, your clients need to learn healthy coping mechanisms. Your life skills group therapy sessions can equip them with coping skills to enable them to effectively deal with relapse triggers and temptations. For example, you may teach them how to identify triggers, avoid high-risk situations and reduce stress with sober activities.
- Communication techniques: Many of your life skills clients may have isolated themselves from family and friends during substance use. Living in this manner can result in the inability to effectively communicate with loved ones. It's important for you to help them learn effective communication techniques so they know how to communicate their feelings and needs rather than suppressing them. It's also important for your clients to learn active listening skills so they can understand and consider other people's feelings.
Life Skills Activities to Practice in Therapy
So, what are life skills activities? In short, life skills activities are facilitated exercises and activities that encourage your clients to think about and practice critical life skills during group therapy.
Talking about these life skills will naturally be the first step to preparing your clients for using the skills. However, stopping there may leave them feeling unprepared to put those skills into practice in the real world. To help them practice valuable life skills in a safe, supportive setting, conduct activities in your group therapy session that require the use of these necessary life skills.
Consider how these mental health life skills group ideas can encourage the development of essential life skills.
1. Communication Exercises
Practicing effective communication skills can be challenging without guidance. Communication exercises in group therapy allow your clients to practice effective communication with your guidance. When clients lack experience with positive communication and active listening skills, your professional feedback and input can help them fine-tune their communication skills for real-life situations.
Consider how you can tailor communication exercises to your group therapy session. For example, help your clients practice active listening with a listen and draw exercise.
Each person in your group will get a piece of paper and a pen. You'll give them verbal step-by-step instructions to draw an object. As you say the steps, they will need to listen carefully and draw what you say. For example, the first step may be to draw a vertical rectangle that takes up the entire paper and the second step may be to divide the rectangle into four equal sections.
Your steps should increase in difficulty, requiring participants to listen carefully. When you've gone through all the steps to draw the object, compare the drawings to see who listened most accurately. This exercise helps your clients practice active listening so they can pay attention and internalize what others are communicating to them.
Another great communication exercise is a guessing game. Much like playing “20 questions,” think of an object and have group members ask you yes or no questions until they're able to determine the object you're thinking of. You can use this activity to help your clients learn the difference between closed questions and open-ended questions, and how each can affect their conversations. For example, open-ended questions allow others to more effectively communicate their thoughts and feelings with explanations.
2. Teamwork Exercises
Teamwork exercises encourage your clients to work together and allow for more opportunities to practice healthy communication. There are many exercises for partners and larger groups. For example, ask everyone to partner up and give each person a pen and paper. Each participant should write detailed instructions on how to do a simple task, like making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Remind them to think of every necessary step to complete the process. They'll then swap instructions with their partner and complete the task.
They can only use the instructions as written by their partner. They can't use any supplies or make any actions that aren't outlined in the instructions. For example, if “open the jar of jelly” was left out of the instructions, the person cannot complete that step. This exercise helps demonstrate the importance of communicating with clear statements and words.
Another great teamwork exercise involves cooking a meal together. Space allowing, have partners or small groups of participants choose and cook a meal together. Cooking allows your clients to bond and learn how to work with others in a small space. Communication is key to maneuvering the kitchen and determining who will prepare what part of the dish. This teamwork exercise also helps your clients practice household responsibilities in the kitchen. For example, rather than leaving the dishes in the sink, they can practice cleaning up right away.
3. Coping Exercises
As we mentioned earlier, your clients may lack appropriate coping skills. In the past, they may have used drugs or alcohol to cope with stress and other emotions or situations. In your group therapy session, you can conduct coping exercises that provide them with alternative ways to cope with stressful or upsetting situations. They may not realize what other activities or hobbies they can use to cope, so this is your chance to give them ideas and suggestions.
For example, teach them that they can use activities they enjoy to destress. Exercising, painting, writing, dancing, playing an instrument, taking a walk, reading, going shopping, gardening or watching a movie are all great ways for your clients to take their minds off a stressful event.
Other coping exercises you can use during group therapy sessions include role-playing and making lists. In groups, ask your clients to act out difficult situations, under your direction, and have everyone identify what might be upsetting about it and how they could healthily cope with the events. It can also be helpful to talk through how and why negative coping mechanisms wouldn't be helpful in the given situations.
You can also have your group participants practice brainstorming solutions to upsetting events and listing the pros and cons of the decisions they make in response to those events. These exercises can help your clients see the potential consequences of their decisions while identifying more effective ways to cope.
4. Painting Session
There are many ways you can use a painting session in your life skills group. You can ask your clients to paint with specific prompts to help them visualize concepts or you may use it as a technique to help the group destress and be creative. For example, ask your clients to paint what their dream job would be. Then, have them turn the paper over and write three things they can do to make those dreams a reality.
When struggling with addiction, many of your clients may have looked for sources of guidance or relief. Prompt them by telling them to imagine they're lost at sea at night and are trying to row to a lighthouse seen glowing in the distance. If they make it to the lighthouse, there will be warmth, food and a place to sleep. Ask them to think about who or what their sources of guidance or relief are in desperate times.
Have your clients paint a lighthouse to depict one of their sources of guidance. They can include words to help in their depiction, like family, faith or friends. Painting sessions like these can help get your clients thinking about difficult topics in a new light.
5. Sharing a Memory
Addiction can be filled with many dark days, and many of your clients may choose to block those days out of their memories. Choosing to remember good days can serve as a reminder that there will be many more good days accompanying recovery. To celebrate and reminisce on some of your clients' good days, ask everyone to share one of their happiest memories.
Some people may feel inclined to talk longer than others, so it's helpful to set a timer for one or two minutes per person. If they don't need the entire minute to tell their story, allow other group members to ask questions for the remaining time. After each person shares their memory, allow other group members to comment on their own memories and feelings that came up as a result of hearing the story.
This activity can help group members bond over their positive experiences, which is helpful in a group therapy setting, when people often only speak about failures or challenges.
Try Out These Group Therapy Life Skills Activities
During your life skills group, mental health will also likely be a significant topic of discussion. Whether the focus is on discussing your clients' mental states or conducting life skills activities, as a therapist, you'll need to document the group session. From client reactions to activities and things they share during the session to progress you see and plans for the next group session, your note writing needs to be quick, yet accurate and detailed.
An electronic health record like ICANotes provides group therapy session note templates to allow you to take effective and efficient notes during your sessions. To learn more about using ICANotes in your group therapy session, contact us today or schedule a live demo.
Clinical Director October has been a Registered Nurse for over 15 years. She is board certified in Mental Health and Psychiatric Nursing. She holds a Bachelor of Arts from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. She also graduated with bachelor and master degrees in Nursing from Western Governors University.